RALEIGH – Every year for the past four years, Rocky Mount Prep has taken another step in building its basketball tradition from the ground up.
Senior forward Donte Samuels has been waiting ever since he joined the varsity team for his chance to plant the Jaguars’ flag on the mountain top, knowing that one day he might have that opportunity.
Saturday was that chance, but Rocky Mount Prep couldn’t claim the title for itself.
Instead, it succumbed, 53-41, to Winston-Salem Prep in the NCHSAA 1-A boys’ basketball state championship.
“I hate it for these young men,” Rocky Mount Prep coach Don Reams said. “They have to go out on a loss. I think most of them are going to play at the next level. I just pray that wherever they go, they’ll remember March 16, 2013. They made school history.”
Rocky Mount Prep (24-4) played for the first state championship in school history regardless of sport Saturday inside Reynolds Coliseum, but plagued by the worst shooting performance of the season, the Jaguars did not return to campus with the trophy.
Accomplishing so much but falling short is a concept at least Samuels seemed to grasp and take solace in after the loss.
“When we look back on it, of course we are upset that we didn’t win,” Samuels said. “I think we’ll have a little satisfaction just getting here and making history. Of course we wanted to make that extra step, and we didn’t get it done.”
Rocky Mount Prep foreshadowed its shooting woes from the start. On the Jaguars’ first possession, guard Jacob Barrett pulled up from the wing and launched a 3-pointer. It fell short, missing every part of the rim.
It could have been an afterthought: A jittery first attempt to calm the nerves. Instead, it was a frightening omen of things to come.
Only once this season had Rocky Mount Prep failed to make a 3-point shot – against Plymouth in the third round of the playoffs. On that night, the Jaguars attempted only seven.
On Saturday, they missed all 17.
“I just think we couldn’t find our touch (Saturday),” said Barrett, a 40-percent shooter from behind the arc who went 0-for-7 Saturday. “We (had) been getting a lot of shots up this week in practice. We just had a bad game shooting.”
After Barrett’s airball, Rocky Mount Prep hit two mid-range jump shots in the first two minutes of the game. For the final 30 minutes, the Jaguars scored just four more points outside the paint.
“That’s a big nail in our coffin,” Reams said of his team failing to make a 3-point shot. “They go 5-for-17. If they had gone 0-for-17 and we had gone 5-for-17, the roles would have been reversed right now.”
Winston-Salem Prep (32-1), which has lost just two games in two years as back-to-back state champions, dropped into a 2-3 zone in the second quarter.
The Phoenix was determined to force Rocky Mount Prep, which played without defensive specialist Aaron Oates, to beat it from the outside, hoping to take the Jaguars’ athletic big man Deshawn Freeman out of the game.
“We just got big, we got long, we said if you were going to beat us (Saturday), you’re going to beat us from the outside,” Winston-Salem Prep coach Andre Gould said. “You’re not going to beat us inside.”
The Jaguars couldn’t beat Winston-Salem Prep from the outside, either. Rocky Mount Prep missed four 3-pointers in the first quarter, five in the second, one in the third and seven in the fourth quarter.
In the second quarter, marred by poor shooting, Rocky Mount Prep knocked down just one field goal and scored only four points. Meanwhile, the Phoenix stretched out a 15-2 run, taking the lead for good with 5:57 to play in the first half.
By halftime, the lead was 13.
Rocky Mount Prep never pulled within nine points the rest of the game.
Reams isn’t usually a betting man, but if he was, he never would have guessed that his team wouldn’t hit a single 3-pointer.
“I probably would have taken you up,” said Reams, whose team shot 34 percent from behind the arc this season.
It’s also not a bad bet that this loss, history-making though it might be, will be one the seven-man senior class will be hard-pressed to forget.
"We wanted to put the flag on the mountain and mark our territory, saying that we really made history, and we’re on top,” Samuels said. “... We’re happy that we (were) here, but nobody was happy with the loss, especially the seniors.”
Winston-Salem Prep 53
Rocky Mount Prep 41
WSP 13 15 15 10 – 53
RMP 11 4 13 13 – 41
WSP: Raekwon Harney (12 points); Mike Hughes (12 points); Aaron Limpscomb (10 points); Coye Simmons (8 points); Will Tibbs (6 points); Omar Roseboro (3 points); Greg Howard (2 points).
RMP: Deshawn Freeman (15 points; Jacob Barrett (11 points); Donte Samuels (7 points); Gary Smith (4 points); James Bonds (4 points).
Leaders: WSP – Simmons, 13 rebounds; Harney, Hughes, 3 assists; Howard, Hughes, 2 steals; Simmons, 2 blocks. RMP – Barrett, 8 rebounds; Barrett, 3 assists; Samuels, Bonds, 3 steals; Freeman, Samuels, 1 block.
Justin Hite can be reached at 407-9951 or firstname.lastname@example.org